Ingredient Science

Olive Oil and Sunflower Oil for Dry Skin

Are natural oils healthy?

Olive, olive oil, and sunflower oil
Credits: "Rama Sivamani"

Research Spotlight: "Effect of olive and sunflower seed oil on the adult skin barrier: implications for neonatal skin care"


Natural oils have been used by throughout the globe as lubricants for baby massage and as a moisturizer. Oils are generally considered to be beneficial and healthy for the skin.  But are all oils the same?  Do some oils help and others cause harm?

One group of researchers put the question to the test. They examined the effects of olive oil and sunflower oil on the skin.[1]  Both of these oils are commonly used as moisturizers and home remedies for infants with cradle cap. Nobody wants to irritate their baby's skin, but this is also important because damage to the skin barrier in infants is thought to be a trigger for the development of eczema.

The results were surprising.  The oils were not the same.  The sunflower seed oil helped to improve hydration of the skin, maintained the skin barrier, and caused no redness.  On the other hand, olive oil affected the skin barrier, caused mild redness, and even skin dehydration in both people with and without a history of eczema.  Those who had a previous history of eczema were the most affected by the olive oil.

The difference in effect is likely due to the fatty acid composition of the two oils.  Sunflower oil contains a high ratio of linoleic acid to oleic acid while it is the opposite in olive oil.  Oils high in linoleic acid have been shown to help improve skin barrier and reduce trans-epidermal water loss  (TEWL).

This study further shows that more research on natural oils is needed to learn the pros and cons of each specific oil.

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1. Danby SG, AlEnezi T, Sultan A, et al. Effect of olive and sunflower seed oil on the adult skin barrier: implications for neonatal skin care. Pediatr Dermatol.2013;30(1):42-50; PMID: 22995032. Link to research